It’s hard to believe that I almost didn’t travel to Belgium. I literally let the application deadline
pass me by for reasons I can’t even try to fabricate. It was thanks to one of my fellow classmates
(shoutout to Ashley) and the very understanding education abroad coordinator that I was able to
jump on board this amazing program. My absolute dream job is to be a pediatric oncology nurse.
The reason I wanted to study end of life and palliative care in Belgium was due to the
experiences I had during my internship on an oncology unit this past summer. Many patients
who could benefit from palliative and hospice services weren’t utilizing them. Budget problems
caused the palliative care team to become dismantled and I fear that patients will never fully
experience the quality of life they deserve at the end of their lives. I left hoping to gain insight to
a new way of integrating palliative care into the lives of those with chronic and terminal diseases
and that hope became a reality.
During multiple different site visits I saw how a hospital truly could become a home. To enter a
palliative care unit in Belgium, one must ring a doorbell just as you would to enter someone’s
home. Aromatherapy provides a relaxing setting and some hospitals even have a dog that roams
around freely for the patients to pet and play with. Patients and their families are able to cook
their own dinners in the kitchen and nurses and patients eat at the same tables. Couches encircle
a large flat-screen TV where patients can go to enjoy a movie. These are the type of units I hope
to one-day see in the hospitals here in the United States.
By far one of my favorite nights of the entire trip was when all 50+ students along with the
professors had dinner together in the ballroom at the university. After we were finished eating,
we blasted music as each country taught different cultural dances to each other. The U.S. got the
night started by doing the whip and nae nae and we continued representing the States with
songs like The Cotton-Eyed Joe and The Macarena. I may or may not have been sweating by the
end of the night and my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. It was in that moment I
knew I would never forget the people and memories I created with them during my time in
Not only did we get to explore Belgium, but we were also given a free weekend in which we
traveled to Amsterdam. To say it was two of the best days of my life would be a complete
understatement. We packed our days with a canal tour, an ice bar, a tour of the Van Gogh
museum, and a trip to the Heineken factory. We filled up on lots of yummy foods and found it
hard to put our cameras down because of the gorgeous architect. It’s amazing how easy it is to
travel around Europe (we almost got on a train to Germany by accident) and it is safe to say that
I will definitely be returning to do more exploring.
We have been back in the United States for over a week now and not a day goes by where I don’t
think about the amazing times I had in Belgium. Although we were only there for two weeks, I
find myself feeling homesick now that we are back. I miss all the incredibly friendly and
welcoming students from Belgium and all the laughs that we shared. I miss staying up on a
Sunday singing and dancing until the late hours of the night. And I miss spending each and every
waking moment with the eight other UConn students I traveled with. Two years ago I studied
abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and a very special person shared with us the following quote
many times when we returned: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of
your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and
knowing people in more than one place.” The more I travel, the more I identify with this quote.
Traveling abroad is a very special experience, and I am glad that I was able to participate in this
adventure with the School of Nursing.
I can string together a bunch of words. I can tell you more about the delicious foods we ate and
the hospitals we visited. But words only go so far. The best part of this trip wasn’t particularly
the words I shared with others. It was the feelings I experienced throughout the weeks. Feelings
of happiness, of hope, and of freedom. And for that I am truly thankful.